For Black Americans, The Great Depression Never Ended

In this photo by Jeff Smith, homeless men Marcus Harreyes, left, and Bob Stephens, talk in a vacant lot in Michigan. (Jeffrey Smith/CM-Life News via UpstartCity, Flickr)

African Americans remain trapped in a 25 year “Great Depression” economist Ken Goldstein said during a press conference at The Conference Board on Sept. 13.

“The worst of the unemployment rate in the United States was during the Great Depression. It was 25 percent — that lasted for a couple of years,” Goldstein said. “For young, male African Americans it has been 25 percent or higher for two decades, so in some communities, it’s as if they have been in a Great Depression for decades.”

The communities that Mr. Goldstein is referring to are cities such as Baltimore, where in 2013, the unemployment rate for black men between the ages of 20 and 24 was 37 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of the many factors contributing to racial unemployment disparities, Goldstein cited discrimination in the criminal justice system.

In 2014, six percent of all black males ages 30 to 39 were imprisoned, compared to only one percent of their white peers, according to statistics from the Bureau of Justice. “Either African Americans are much more criminally oriented than white men of the same age, or we have a system that is skewed,” said Goldstein. “It’s just wrong; it’s just wrong.”

Goldstein’s comments follow a summer characterized by sustained nationwide protests against racial inequality. Following demonstrations in Washington and Louisiana, riots broke out in Wisconsin, where according to the Economic Policy Institute, the black unemployment rate was 19.9 percent.

“When comparing races, that 19.9 percent rate was four times higher than the white unemployment rate,” Wisconsin state senator Lena Taylor wrote in the aftermath of the uprising. “We have a long way to go to achieve economic justice.”